American Axle & Manufacturing Expanding at Colfor Manufacturing

Dec. 14, 2005
Also, applying Kaizen principles at Colfor

When American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. acquired Colfor Manufacturing in 1999, the organization was producing forgings and machined components for general manufacturing markets.

Today, five years later, AAM has refocused the division on turning out value-added components for the automotive industry. Colfor produces an expanding range of transmissions shafts, transfer case shafts, hypoid drive pinions, axle shafts, transmission gears, mining bits, wheel spindles, and inner-connecting shafts, among other items.

Making most of these components begins with forging — cold, warm, or hot forging — at two Ohio plants: Malvern and Salem.

In October, the third plant — the Minerva, OH finishing facility — celebrated plans for a $60-million expansion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The investment involves a building expansion, adding state-of-the-art machine tools and other equipment, and hiring 175 new workers over the next 24 months.

At the ceremony, AAM co-founder, chairman, and CEO Richard E. Dauch remarked: “Colfor Manufacturing was one of the first companies AAM evaluated and purchased after becoming a public company in 1999. We purchased the company because we believed in the workforce and their ability to add value and compete in the global automotive marketplace. That decision has been rewarded by a workforce that understands and has adapted to the rapidly changing, highly competitive global automotive industry.”

According to Thomas J. Szymanski, Colfor Manufacturing’s president and COO, “The investment by AAM, the flexibility of our UAW-represented workforce, and the assistance from both the State of Ohio and the City of Minerva, have given all of us at Colfor a great opportunity to compete for a bright and secure future.”

To help Colfor with the expansion, Carroll County commissioners approved a 10-year agreement abating property taxes on $24.9 million of the project.

“They want to get this project up and running this year,” said Rhonda Cogan, executive director of Carroll County Economic Development, in discussing the abatement. “It is to improve their production and expansion of product lines.”

The village of Minera also offered a big incentive. Explained Mayor James Waller, “They are putting up a new building. We gave them seven acres of ground.”

As a condition of the tax break, Colfor agreed to compensate the Minerva Local School District for 25% of what would have been the full personal-property tax payments on the $24.9 million investment. What that payment comes to “will be dependent upon what they invest,” said Michael Pence, school district treasurer.

When completed, the Minerva operation will have more than 100 new pieces of equipment that provide Colfor with state-of-the-art machining capabilities. As a result, the facility will transition from a lower volume and simple production process, to a high-volume manufacturing facility capable of routinely meeting the quality, precision, and complexity of design, heat treating, and machining requirements for today’s automotive industry.

This expansion will enable Colfor to supply automobile manufacturers with five component parts for six-speed transmission systems. And, the expanded machining capacity at Minerva will help to ensure the futures of the Ohio forging operations in Malvern and Salem.

Applying the Kaizen Principles at Colfor

Work in Northeast Ohio Council (WINOC), Medina, OH, trained Colfor employees in the principles of lean manufacturing and Kaizen Blitz.

Kaizen Blitz uses teams of employees to take apart processes or tasks, study them, and reconstruct them in a better way. Before, there were no procedures specified, no sense of urgency, and no teamwork in the setup process. The first step toward improvement involved videotaping and analyzing a typical changeover, which lasted approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.

After observing current procedures, they discovered ways to simplify steps and create a standard procedure for changeovers. The time for the standard procedure was reduced 80% due to teamwork and organization, without significant capital investment. In order to continue improvement, each changeover is observed, recorded, and analyzed for new methods of efficiency.

Colfor has benefitted greatly from the reduction in changeover time, with their all-time record at 6 minutes. The Kaizen Blitz approach save both time and money. The improvement of 57% on changeovers saved over $80,000 per year, and avoided capital equipment costs of $950,000. The new procedures enabled them to absorb the loss of three die setters, saving over $100,000 per year.